Becky Johnson: It’s kind of a dicey proposition, doing a commercial, isn’t it?
Madonna: I had a lot of apprehension about it at first, but we had several meetings, and in the end I got to collaborate with them, I had a lot of input, and they came up with a story that I found to be very touching. I don’t feel I was used, if that’s what you mean.
Becky Johnson: The first video off your new album uses the same song you chose to feature in the commercial, “Like a Prayer.” How would you compare the two treatments of the same song?
Madonna: The treatment for the video is a lot more controversial. It’s probably going to touch a lot of nerves in a lot of people. And the treatment for the commercial is, I mean, it’s a commercial. It’s very, very sweet. It’s very sentimental.
Becky Johnson: It’s the “lite” version. I saw the video. It’s pretty shocking. What struck me most about it is that it’s so unlike anything you’ve done before. It’s frightening. It’s dark. It’s violent. And it’s kind of bleak, despite the religious imagery.
Madonna: Well, originally, when I recorded the song, I would play it over and over again, trying to get a visual sense of what sort of story or fantasy it evoked in me. I kept imagining this story about a girl who was madly in love with a black man, set in the South, with this forbidden interracial love affair. And the guy she’s in love with sings in a choir. So she’s obsessed with him and goes to church all the time. And then it turned into a bigger story, which was about racism and bigotry. I wanted to put something in about Ku Klux Klan, use burning crosses… but then Mississippi Burning came out and I realized I was hitting the nail on the head a little too hard. Too obvious. So I thought I should take a slightly different approach. My original idea was much sadder. Kind of: this is reality, and reality sucks.
Then Mary Lambert got involved as the director, and she came up with a story that incorporated more of the religious symbolism I originally wrote into the song. The whole album has a lot of religious imagery in it. The video still has the sadness, but it’s got a hopeful ending. I mean, I had these ideas about me running away with the black guy and both of us getting shot in the back by the KKK. Completely insane. So Mary made it more palatable.
Becky Johnson: Still, it’s not your standard MTV fare.
Madonna: Well it’s something that I think is really tragic – not just in this country, but everywhere. My only fear is that people aren’t going to get it. It’s too complicated.
Becky Johnson: Oh, I think they’ll get it all right. They might be a little outraged or offended, though. You’re not the Material Girl anymore.
Madonna: That’s why I did it.
Becky Johnson: You just turned thirty last August. How would you say you’ve changed in the last five years?
Madonna: I think… I don’t know… I’ve changed.
Becky Johnson: What do you think are your greatest strengths?
Madonna: [long pause] Well, I’m disciplined. And I’m persevering. And I don’t give up very easily… and I’m reliable.
Becky Johnson: And what would you say are your biggest flaws?
Madonna: [long pause] I’m impatient. I’m intolerant of other people’s weaknesses. And I’m really hard on myself.
Becky Johnson: When you say you’re intolerant of weaknesses, do you mean you find yourself expecting too much of other people?
Madonna: Yeah. Yeah.
Becky Johnson: Is that because you set a standard for yourself and expect others to live up to that standard?
Madonna: Yes. That’s true.
Becky Johnson: What was your reaction to the Madonna “wannabe” craze a few years back?
Madonna: It was on my first tour that I first saw it… and I thought it was amazing, amazing that a certain way I chose to look and dress became an obsession. Certainly it was not what I set out to do. I think those things just happen by chance. I don’t think you can set out to do something like that. But I thought it was really flattering.
Becky Johnson: Aside from copying your style of dress, they looked up to you as a role model. What would you say, as a role model, your responsibility to them?
Madonna: That’s a tough question. Because in a way my first response is: I don’t have a responsibility to them. They decided to look up to me, or use me as a role model. My only responsibility, I think, is just be true to myself.